The 2007 collapse of the Minneapolis Bridge had many asking about the inspection procedures in place and how something like this can happen to a supposedly well designed bridge. The answer to preventing future disasters like this one may lie in research being done at The University of Adelaide in Australia. Dr. Alex Ng and his team are working on a project that can lead to having materials used in construction “talk back” to inspectors.
The plan is to have electric transducers placed in the materials at the time of construction or later, which will allow the structure to communicate with technology similar to a sonogram or MRI. The transducers will send waves into the materials and any cracks or deficiencies, whether seen or unseen by inspectors, will be found. The uses do not stop with steel girders – newer construction materials like the composites used in Boeing’s new Dreamliner will also be given these transducers once research proves their worth.
The Dreamliner is made of about 80 percent fiber- composite laminate materials. These are lighter in weight but stronger than metals previously used. The transducers will send out something like a pulse and then an echo will be received back detailing the integrity of the entire part being tested, inside and out. The plan may lead to using this technology as a way of testing all construction materials and old style checks for structural integrity like visual inspection or x-rays, etc. may become obsolete.
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